The French and the Spanish fought each other on Hispaniola long before Haiti and the Dominican Republic ever existed, perhaps puzzling the Taino Indians who lived there. Centuries later, with the Taino, the French and the Spanish all long gone, the fight goes on.
Many things separate the Haitians and the Dominicans, contributing to their conflict. They have significant linguistic, economic, and religious differences. But the ugliest divide is racial.
I love the Dominican people that I’ve met. A recent study ranked them as the second happiest people on earth, after the Costa Ricans. I love their music and their joy for life. But I do not love the attitude so many of them have about Haitians.
The D.R. was ruled for thirty years by a brutal dictator named Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo hated Haitians, and he promoted the notion that Dominicans, despite being only a few shades lighter than Haitians, were white Europeans, racially superior to the black African Haitians. (Not to be outdone, Papa Doc Duvalier, Haiti’s own brutal dictator, later promoted negritude, the notion that black people were superior to non-blacks.)
When our family was vacationing in the D.R. a few years ago, we had a Dominican tour guide named Juan Paolo. He was a happy, fun-loving man, and we enjoyed his company. But at one point he pointed out a group of Haitians. He told us that many Haitians came to the D.R. to work, explaining in his imperfect English, “Here we make things. But they don’t make nothing in Haiti, except for voodoo.” Then, pointing at his head to drive home the point, he said, “Because that’s how the black mind works.” In the U.S., Juan Paolo would be considered an African-American.
We spent a day in Santiago, D.R. before going into Haiti. Cherie and I walked to the monument there, which commemorates the heroes of the Dominican wars for independence, including their war with Haiti. The monument stands atop a hill overlooking the city. There is a pleasant breeze up there, and the chance to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
There were lots of young Dominicans there, enjoying the early evening.
And up there, amid the statues of the war heroes, I saw two dogs playing. They were rolling around, wrestling with each other as dogs do, having a great time.
One of the dogs was black, and the other was brown.
These people could learn a lot from those dogs, I thought to myself.